5 Psychological Strategies To Ease The Stress Of Perfectionism
“Striving for excellence motivates you, striving for perfection is demoralizing.” ~Harriet Braiker
Imagine intentionally trying to live your life average.
Not perfect, exceptional, or even highly notable, simply average. Maybe that means not being on time to every appointment, or just meeting minimum expectations at work, or maybe taking time out of your day to watch Netflix instead of putting extra time into cooking or that big project you’ve been working on.
Could you do it? Or would you be badgered by that voice in your head that everything you do has got to be perfect?
I’m not saying that living an average life is what everyone ought to do; striving to challenge yourself and rise above expectations and leave an array of proud accomplishments and experiences in your wake are great, worthy goals that help you learn and grow as a person.
But we as humans in this modern day society tend to develop this obsessive desire to do everything perfectly and if we ever fall short of that, we beat ourselves up for it. It’s a perfectionist mindset that seems to be so second-nature nowadays that it’s treated as a normal way of functioning in day to day life.
Is that normalized perfectionist mindset all its cracked up to be though?
Feeling like everything you do has to be perfect all the time and straining yourself to meet expectations to the point it impacts your mental, emotional and even physical health can really take its toll on you overtime. The truth is, constantly striving for perfection and beating yourself for up for shortcomings is stressful, incredibly stressful, more so than people realize and it’s a degree of stress that isn’t actually necessary for making progress and growing into the best person you can be.
If you’re unsure you live with a perfectionist mindset, here’s how you can tell:
- You often feel weighed down by the goals and expectations you’re not meeting
- You’re always looking for the “right” moment or time to do something
- You always feel dissatisfied by everything you’ve achieved so far
- You become obsessed about minor mistakes that make very little impact on the bigger picture
- You constantly sacrifice self care for the sake of achievements
Sound familiar at all? Transitioning out of a perfectionist mindset after you’ve acknowledged its existence can be difficult, but isn’t impossible. Here are a few strategies you can practice to help you start accepting who you are and where you are and living your life from a mindset that’s thriving, rather than one that’s constantly stressing.
Strategies For Shifting Out Of A Perfectionist Mindset
#1. Rethink What It Means To Be Average
Most times when we hear the word “average,” we react as though it’s a dirty word and that’s often because people tend to process the meaning of the word as though it’s an assessment of their worth as a person, which simply isn’t true or accurate.
It’s not possible to be above average at everything you do in life and that’s okay. All that says is that you’re human and that’s it. Performing average at something says nothing about your worth as a person or what you have to offer the world. Just because you’re not exceptional at this one thing doesn’t mean you aren’t or can’t be at other things.
Acknowledging that being average isn’t a degradation of your worth and simply viewing it as a part of being human helps you to not push yourself to excel at something just because you feel your average performance makes you incomplete in some way. Instead you can start striving to excel at something because you enjoy the challenge, because you want to compete with your past self, because that’s how you want to give back to the world, or because that’s how you want to grow as a person.
Going at things from a standpoint like that greatly takes the stressful and draining edge off of the daily things you’re working on accomplishing.
#2. Challenge The All-Or-Nothing Fallacy
The all-or-nothing fallacy that tends to come along with perfectionism is just that, a fallacy. Many people will look at their achievements with a black and white perspective, meaning that they so strongly believe that their value as a person is tied to their achievements, that if they ever make a mistake or fail at something, that value will become undermined or completely irrelevant, driving them to feel that they need to succeed at everything they do and beat themselves up for the things they don’t.
In reality though, success isn’t that starkly black and white. Just because you fail at something or don’t achieve something in the way you want, it doesn’t mean that all your efforts and the successes of your past become irrelevant.
Everything you do contributes to building you into the person you are, including the shortcomings and failures. These are all simply opportunities to learn and grow from, not indications that you should throw in the towel or get upset with yourself. Your value isn’t undermined by shortcomings or failures, it’s not even scratched. Making this shift in perspective can help you see that everything that happens in your life can be used to strengthen you and prepare you for whatever’s coming next and that’s what makes the journey of life so intriguing.
#3. Become Friends With What You Don’t Know
Living from a perfectionist mindset can create this need for control that creates a whole new degree of stress, even to the point of anxiety. Wanting everything to be perfect makes people feel the need to have control over the outcome of their actions and if the outcome doesn’t pan out the way they want, they fear that everything will fall apart or go completely wrong and they will then be viewed as poor or incompetent by others.
It may seem difficult, but learning to become comfortable with the unknown can greatly relieve the stress that perfectionism instills in our minds. No matter how strongly we wish it, we simply can’t have control over the outcome of everything and learning to accept that helps relieve us from potential unnecessary stress and disappointment in ourselves that’s triggered by things not working out how we wanted them to.
Start viewing things in life – like work, finances, relationships, etc. – as journeys and allow yourself to focus on the aspects of those things you do have control over and accept the aspects you can’t fully control, like most outcomes. Loosening up your need for control helps relieve a burden from your shoulders and ultimately makes all areas of life more enjoyable.
#4. Become Friends With What You Don’t Love
Perfectionism also comes with this tendency to always focus – even hyper-focus – on the things you don’t accept about yourself, things you consider imperfect or as flaws.
It’s easy to say that acceptance is at the root of love, but living from a place of acceptance when you’ve gone so long constantly criticizing imperfections can be challenging, but it’s definitely rewarding.
Start by individually approaching all the things about yourself that you don’t love and start creating a relationship with them, befriend them. See what purpose they may be serving in your life, what you can learn from them, what’s needed to help heal what’s necessary and move forward from a place of acceptance. For example, if you struggle with anxiety, instead of viewing it like some dysfunction in your brain and constantly criticizing or blaming yourself for it, start viewing it as a way your brain is trying to help you, figure out healing ways to cope with it and accept it as just a quirky part of who you are.
Overtime, this acceptance mindset will become much more natural and you’ll be much more inclined to show yourself love, patience and care, rather than hate, blame, criticism, judgement, etc.
#5. Reassess How You Measure Success
If your perfectionism thrives off your constant need to be successful, than it might not be you that has to change, but rather your perspective of what success is that needs some shifting.
People have a strong – and oftentimes natural – tendency to compare their progress and achievements with others. While this is just a part of the competitive nature humankind tends to display, it can become the basis of which you determine your scale of what success is. If your project isn’t as good as so and so’s or you’re not making as much money as that one coworker, then you must not be successful and need to push yourself harder.
Using comparison in order to determine what success means will almost always cause you to stress out and feel disappointed, simply because you’re measuring your progress in life with the progress of people who are living completely different lives from you. This comparison completely overshadows the true progress you’re making in your life, how amazing your journey to where you are has actually been so far, how much more potential you still have and how much you have to offer the world just being who you are.
Rather than basing your definition of success on your comparisons with others, consider shifting it to something far more rewarding for you. Start viewing success based on your ability to stay motivated, accomplish challenging things, impact the lives of others, make it through the day, etc. Develop a more present mindset, focus on your own journey and you’re own growth and how you want to impact the world and success will become so much more meaningful for you.
The truth is, friend, you are human, life is a journey and you are exactly where you’re supposed to be. You have so much to offer the world with your individual perspectives, abilities, talents and ideas, it’s not worth sacrificing who you are for the sake of trying to measure up to other people’s expectations or becoming obsessed with doing everything “perfectly.” Living perfectly imperfect is the point and is the best way to develop, learn, grow and progress in this life.
Start shifting your mind from living as a perfectionist and you’ll start to see how dramatically different life can be for you. Just remember that no matter what, you have value, you have worth, you are an incredible human and nothing about your successes and failures can change that.
What are your thoughts on perfectionism? Is it something you struggle with? What have you done to help shift your mindset to one that’s more present? Share your thoughts, experiences and ideas with us, we’d love to hear from you.
And remember, we’re in this together.
Sara Wylie resides in Utah where she is currently working as an Editorial Intern for Fitlife.tv while also pursuing a career in writing. She hopes that through her words and fiery passion, she will be able to not only inspire others to seek out and nourish their own passions, but to also help others feel what it’s like to truly be alive.
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